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Road To Ruins

Tanner gazed across the fire at their two guests while he fingered the hilt of his blade. The movement didn’t go unnoticed by the man calling himself Mills. Mills, and his partner Sevey, had just joined their fire and Tanner was already wishing they had never met the pair.

“I still have a hard time believing that after all the crap we have been through, anyone could have an answer or a way to make things better.” Tanner’s friend, Hatchback, was mean, tough, and the eternal pessimist, but in this case, Tanner was right there with him.

“You haven’t heard The Words. The Revered has plans to save us, the whole world. Make it like it used to be.” Mills stirred the coals with a stick as he spoke.

“Bullshit. Are words going to turn the lights back on? No, the old ways are over. Nothing can change that. Best to just adapt now and try to survive, right Tanner?” Tanner just nodded, happy to let Hatchback do his talking.

Davis, their third and youngest compatriot, suggested, “Maybe we should try to check it out?”

The red glow of the fire reflected in Mills’ eyes. “Yes, you should listen to your young friend here. The Revered has promised to free us from the woes of these wastelands and lead us back to the days of plenty. We leave for the Transformation tonight. Are you coming with us?”

“I think we’ll pass,” Tanner said. “Riding the Apocalypse is tough enough without some self righteous bastard giving us orders.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mills grim voice uttered, as he went for a weapon. Tanner dove to the side as shots echoed through the still night. He was shocked. It had been months since he had heard the sound of gunfire.

Davis went down at once, a bullet through his eye. Hatchback was already wrestling with Sevey, so Mills turned his pistol towards Tanner. His blade was faster and with a single motion, Tanner drew his sharpened machete and severed Mills’ hand at the wrist. Mills stumbled back screaming. A stab through the throat finished the job and then Tanner was rushing to help Hatchback. A hack cut halfway through Sevey’s neck, but it was too late. Hatchback had already taken a blade in the guts.

“Damn,” was all Tanner could say as he pulled the dead man off his friend.

“I’m a goner man.”

“Shh, save your strength.”

“I ain’t got any strength to save. Just promise me one thing. Find out who this Revered freak is and if he isn’t legit, make him pay.”

 

Tanner nodded. He didn’t need to make the promise, because he had already been planning to do what Hatchback had asked.

                                              *         *         *

Two days had passed since he buried Davis and Hatchback.  Locating the Revered hadn’t been difficult; many people were heading towards The Transformation. Most of the Revered’s followers seemed to fall into two groups, the pilgrims and the protectors. Mills must have been part of the latter.

 By the time Tanner arrived, a crowd was already growing. He wouldn’t have been surprised if a thousand people were there. It was the most people he had seen since the collapse.

The protectors were out in force, but Tanner did his best to blend in and work his way up to the front of the crowd. It wasn’t easy, but he was a big man and soon he had made it close to the large wooden stage that had been constructed for The Transformation.

The crowd hushed as a dark robed man took the stage. He raised his arms up to his hood and let it fall away. He was completely hairless with skin pulled taunt, like the head of a drum. The man was flushed, almost pink. The crowd erupted in cheers, which the Revered allowed them to continue for longer than pleased Tanner.

Finally he raised his arms. “My people. How long have we suffered? Where we once had so much, we now hunger for scraps. The women are abused. Our children Die. Men feast on men, I say we have suffered enough!”

More cheering.

The oratory continued. He spoke of the Apocalypse and how he would end it. As he paced back and forth, the crowd swayed, drawn in by his energy.

Except Tanner.

Instead, he mumbled under his breath. “This can’t be real.” He looked over at the protectors. They were not moved. Instead they stood like stone statues with their arms crossed.

“We can’t be saved now. How could someone save us from the devastation of this foul wasteland? It must be a trick.”

He moved closer to the stage. ”He lies.”

Still closer. “I can’t let him fool all these people.”

No one could hear his words over the clamor of the crowd, nor could they see him remove the pistol, which he had stolen from Mills’ dead body.

The Revered’s sermon was reaching a fevered climax. “Now, my new children, behold our salvation!” Behind him, a half dozen protectors were pushing an object, roughly the size of a piano, onto the stage.
          “I have to act now while everyone is distracted.” His arm went up and shoots rang out. The Revered collapsed but, as he fell, his hand clutched at the dark cloth covering the object. It was pulled away as he tumbled onto the floor. The crowd gasped and then went mad. People were grabbing Tanner, but he couldn’t pull his eyes away from what had been uncovered.

Tanner had worked at the college, before the apocalypse had struck. He reconized the machine. He had seen a prototype. His eyes grew wide, and right before the crowd began to tear him apart, he realized that The Revered had uncovered a perpetual motion machine.

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